Meeting a wash: Issues delay Tommy Car Wash approval on site of former Kirby & Holloway restaurant

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission request the proposed car wash to keep, maintain and refurbish the historic Kirby & Holloway sign in its current location on the property. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — A proposed Tommy Car Wash to be built on the former site of the Kirby & Holloway family restaurant at 656 North DuPont Highway has run into some possible complications, as it is partly subject to the city of Dover’s Source Water Protection Overlay Zone (SWPOZ).

Ironically, ensuring clean water at the location of the proposed Tommy Car Wash in the name of the SWPOZ forced the city of Dover’s Planning Commission to table any action on the business’ Site Development Plan on Tuesday night until a legal opinion can be received from the city solicitor regarding potential issues with the businesses’ plan.

City Planner Dave Hugg has said a car wash did fit into the criteria as an acceptable business use at the location. It was automobile repair shops and service stations that did not.

Owners from three other Dover car washes — Race Track Car Wash, Westside Car Wash and Coastal Car Wash — all attended the Planning Commission meeting at City Hall’s council chambers and informed the committee members of the harmful chemicals that go into the car washing process and of the oil and grease that often leaks out of customers’ cars onto parking lots.

Harvey Blonder, one of the owners of Race Track Car Wash at 226 North DuPont Highway, noted the proposed new car wash will feature 19 self-service vacuum cleaners and said motorists will undoubtedly wax and put tire shine on their vehicles while parked at those vacuums as their vehicles drip potentially harmful chemicals onto the parking lot.

Vic Giangrant, owner of West Side Car Wash at 805 Forest Street, and Scott Becker, owner of Coastal Car Wash at 1117 South DuPont Highway, brought up the same concerns, along with potential traffic problems due to the possibility of long lines at the business, which would have access points off both South DuPont Highway and Lepore’s Road.

While the other car wash owners obviously had their own personal business stakes in the issue, they raised enough concerns that Planning Commission member Andrea Maucher made a motion to table advancing the Tommy Car Wash Site Application Plan. It will not be heard again until the city solicitor has a chance to review the legal concerns and will not return to the Planning Commission until March 18 at the earliest.

“I’d not be comfortable voting on this,” Ms. Maucher said. “I’d move to table it until the legal concerns that were raised have been reviewed.”

Planning Commission members then voted 7-0 to table the car wash until questions could be resolved.

The Kirby & Holloway restaurant pre-dated the current city water protections. The restaurant, which was in a building that was built in 1948, suffered an estimated $1 million in fire damage on Feb. 2, 2014. The blaze was determined to be accidental and electrical.

The city’s Planning Office received an Administrative Site Plan application on May 2014 to rebuild and expand the Kirby & Holloway restaurant. The application received final plan approval in December 2014 but work never commenced and the approval expired.

The new Tommy Car Wash is now seeking to become the fourth car wash in Dover.

Issues facing proposed car wash business

Julian Swierczek, Planner I for the city of Dover, explained the possible issues with the proposed Tommy Car Wash and the SWPOZ at the outset of the discussion, first saying that the planning department felt a car wash met the site’s business criteria.

“The site is partially covered by the Source Water Protection Overlay Zone Tier 3 Excellent Recharge Area, which means that the site is further subject to the requirements of (Dover) Code as laid out in Article 3, Section 29.7, which specifically prohibits automobile body repair shop, motor vehicle, boat or farm equipment service and gas stations and motor vehicle service stations,” Mr. Swierczek said, of the site. “The applicant further submitted a diagram depicting the car wash facility activities in the eastern portion of the building with regard to that Source Water Protection Overlay Zone and it is the interpretation of the planning director that the use of the car wash facility does not constitute a motor vehicle service use.

“It is determined that the intent of the two listed prohibited uses (in the Code) is more for service stations and gas stations, mechanics’ shops and not car washes.”

Mr. Swierczek then discussed the difficulties the proposed 5,194-square-foot car wash was having with the SWPOZ.

“The above referenced restrictions pertain chiefly to the actual Overlay Zone itself, not necessarily the entirety of the parcel, so any of those added restrictions would be only for the overlays and not for the parcel in its entirety,” he said. “In an effort to eliminate any potential question of compliance, planning staff has recommended that the applicant either move and/or condense the building so that all car wash activities contained within the structure are located outside the boundary of the Source Water Protection Overlay Zone.”

Kevin R. Minnich, of Minnich Engineering & Land Planning which was representing equitable owner Manpreet Mattu, said any re-design of the car wash is “probably not an option.”

“We gave the staff some explanation as to what portion of that building was actually in the Storm Water Protection Overlay Zone and it was a very small portion and it was basically the drying portion where the car comes out and blowers are on,” Mr. Minnich said. “There’s no real washing or hazardous materials leaving at that point where you’re crossing into that little section of the Storm Water Protection Overlay Zone.

“Compressing or consolidating that (car wash) building is probably not an option. Just like with any of the restaurants, franchises, they have their own set of building parameters that are hard to move away from. That building is like a prototype building and I think it’s the smallest one that would fit on that site.”

He added, “If you move it five or 10 feet, you’re still going to catch the corner of the building. If you move it any further to the west, you’re not going to get the entire building out of there and still be able to have a functioning drive-thru lane.”

Plans for the car wash show a long, one-story structure with a curved roof and two tower-like structures at either of the narrow ends of the building. The exterior materials are not specified but portray a dominant color scheme of gray, black and red materials. There is a canopy covering two drive aisles on the north side of the building. There are 19 red umbrella-like structures at each of the proposed vacuum-spaces.

The applicant submitted a diagram depicting the car wash facility activities in the eastern portion of the building.

The Tommy Car Wash developers are also asking the Planning Commission for a waiver for an arterial street buffer between the business and U.S. 13, which normally requires a 30-foot landscape buffer since the highway is considered as a principal arterial street. The car wash is seeking a waiver to make it a 10-foot buffer.

The application was tabled before that issue was discussed on Tuesday.

Sign of the times

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission request the proposed car wash to keep, maintain and refurbish the historic Kirby & Holloway sign in its current location on the property. The architectural characteristics of the pylon sign, including the shapes and arrangement of the five sign panels and the curving arrow, are unique and should be kept, they said.

However, the sign panels may otherwise be refaced to suit the needs of the car wash as part of the sign refurbishment.

The sign was previously designated a “Historic or Significant Sign” in 2014 by the city’s Historic District Commission due to its unique architectural characteristics, which place it within the tradition of Art Deco style commercial signage common in the Mid-20th Century.

“This sign is unique,” said Dawn Melson-Williams, the principal planner in the city’s Department of Planning and Inspections. “It is actually the only sign in the city that has that historic and significant designation. That’s a fairly recent change to our sign regulations.

“Typically, when a business vacates a location and they’re gone for a specific period of time any signage that denoted that business name has to be removed. If it does not it then meets the definition of being an abandoned sign. This is unique. It’s the only sign that carries with it that status, if you will.”

Planning staff noted that were the historic sign to be replaced, that a new one could not be built to the same size at the same location.

“The code itself does not specifically say that it can’t be demolished,” Ms. Melson-Williams said, of the sign. “I think staff feels that it certainly is a landmark of some sense here in Dover. It’s been here for quite some time and is very unique.

“Could you rebuild a sign of that size at that location? The short answer is no, so it certainly presents an opportunity for the new property owner to potentially reface and make use of a sign in a location that you could not get approval for without a whole series of variances in today’s world.”

Mr. Minnich told the Planning Commission that he was just focused on taking care of the current issues before addressing the legendary Kirby & Holloway sign.

“I realize it’s a sensitive issue with the city and I think of all things the equitable owner and the developers want to be good neighbors with the city and want to work with the city,” he said. “What I would like to see happen is we would be able to work with planning and not have to make that decision (Tuesday) to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’ if we’re going to keep or not keep the sign.”

Thomas Holt, a member of the Planning Commission, probably spoke for many near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I’m just disappointed there’s no more scrapple and eggs,” said Mr. Holt, of the longtime Kirby & Holloway restaurant. “I’m really disappointed because I had many, many good meals there. It’s one of those things. Time marches on.”

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